To “see the light” in She Dies Tomorrow, an arresting work of psychological science fiction from writer-director Amy Seimetz, means to confront your mortality. And it also means literally seeing the light.
Taking its guiding aesthetic from the alien glow of a zapping mosquito trap that appears early on, Seimetz and cinematographer Jay Keitel punctuate crucial moments of the movie with a blue-and-red strobe effect. Pulsating percussively, the light show first falls upon Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), a younger woman in the wake of a break-up who is spending a listless, lonely night trying to unpack in her new home. When she comes out of the light’s spell, Amy calls a friend named Jane (Jane Adams) to share her revelation: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”
I won’t spoil much beyond that, except to say that after initially rebuffing Amy (we learn Amy has a history of instability and alcoholism), Jane finds her friend’s claim … contagious. She Dies Tomorrow spirals out from there beyond a psychological character study to contain multitudes. While it mostly stays in its sci-fi lane, it could also be read as a metaphor for many things: despair in the face of death, yes, but also the all-consuming nature of depression, the contagiousness of anxiety, and the existential angst that loneliness can bring.
Formally, She Dies Tomorrow keeps you on your toes by constantly shifting perspective. Initially intimately aligned with Amy’s point of view (the opening shot is a close-up of her teary, mascara-lined eye), the film occasionally punctures that to provide an omniscient, third-person perspective. When Amy is drinking and driving at one point, a close-up is accompanied by dreamily dramatic music to capture her interior experience, but that’s followed by a hard cut and a music-less view from the back seat, emphasizing the sadness of the moment.
Then there are those light shows, in which Amy (and other characters) come under the spell of the metaphysical force. The first time this occurs, as the colors throb around her, Amy approaches the camera, indistinct and blurry, until she’s looking directly into it. In these moments, we’ve taken on the perspective of the source of light itself; we’re mesmerizing Amy as much as the movie is mesmerizing us.
But is it? She Dies Tomorrow is compelling, but I can’t say I ever truly felt the infectiousness that’s experienced by the characters. I remained an outside witness to what’s happening to Amy and the others, when the film clearly wanted me to be dazed in the same way they are. Unfortunately, the tools Seimetz employs—those strobe lights and the repeated, declarative statement,“I’m going to die tomorrow”—aren’t enough to accomplish that goal. Ultimately, She Dies Tomorrow is more successful as a provocative conversation-starter than a metaphysical experience in its own right. It’s great in theory, good in execution.